Give your little one rules to follow.

The Importance of Giving Children Boundaries

by Erica Loop

In a perfect world, moms could trust their toddlers and preschoolers to always do the right thing and act like little angels. Back in the real world, parents have to set boundaries to ensure that their children are more like model citizens than rowdy puppies. While sometimes not easy to set, boundaries can help keep kids safe, give them guidance to what is and what isn't acceptable behavior, and even keep the household's peace.

Help your child to develop her own self-control. It doesn't matter how important setting boundaries is if your little one can't control herself to follow them. Toddlers are in the beginning stages of developing self-control abilities. To help your toddler along, maintain consistency with rules and discipline and play a few games that reinforce controlled behaviors such as turn taking. Preschoolers are typically further along than their younger counterparts when it comes to self-control development. To increase your preschooler's self-control abilities, continue turn taking and sharing types of play, and add in discussions about emotions and control.

Set firm rules. Explain why these rules are so important for your child to follow, using age-appropriate explanations. For a toddler, use simple sentences that get straight to the point such as, "Don't touch the stove. It will hurt you very badly." Continue this strategy into the preschool years, adding more of an elaborate explanation. Preschoolers are ready for more of a discussion and can recall the facts that you give in defense of your rules.

Maintain resolve. Although it's tempting to waiver on how much you enforce the rules, doing this will only make your boundaries unimportant in your child's eyes. If mommy sometimes allows little Janey to interrupt when she is talking to grandma, little Janey won't understand that it is important to wait your turn to talk.

Provide consequences for not staying within the boundaries. If your child breaks a rules, have an age-appropriate consequence ready. This shows her that the rules are important, and that not following them is unacceptable. Examples of consequences include a time-out or the loss of TV or computer time.

Praise your child for following the rules. If you tell her that she absolutely can't color the floor when her crayons are out, instead tell her what a fantastic job she is doing coloring on only the paper.


  • While boundaries are important for young children, never use any type of physical discipline or verbal abuse to get your child to conform.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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